Streets for People / County Officials Reserved On-Street Parking Stands In Way of Completing Southard Street Bike Lane

By Chris Hamilton. This story is cross posted in KONK Life newspaper on April 21 2023Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here.

Southard Street has had a bike lane from White Street down to Whitehead at the Green Parrot for as long as anyone can remember. It and the parallel bike lane on Fleming are heavily trafficked by locals, workers, and visitors to get in and out of and around downtown. So, last year when the City started a project to rebuild the sidewalk and street in the 300 and 400 blocks of Southard, bicycle enthusiasts were hopeful that the Vision of the adopted Bike Plan would be fulfilled, and the bike lane would finally be extended into the busy 300 block and on into the Truman Waterfront Park. Alas, as has happened with so many projects, the 300 block was recently repainted exactly as it had been before, with “Reserved Parking” for County officials on the public right-of-way and no bike lane where the Bike Plan says there should be one. Parking for a few seems to trump safe biking for the many, again.

We’re told by City staff this is complicated because although this is a City street, there’s some sort of agreement between the City and the County giving this side of the street over to parking for County State Attorney officials and the Supervisor of Elections at the adjacent building in this block. To her credit, last month Mayor Teri Johnston asked the City Manager and City Attorney to figure out a way to get the bike lane done. In turn the City Attorney has asked his counterparts at the County to amend the agreement. A couple months ago we asked our County Commissioner for help, but he hasn’t been able to make headway. With County parking lots in the back of and on the side of the building we’re wondering why the County is reluctant to help make bicycling into Truman Waterfront Park safer.

Our hope is that County officials will see the folly of a few private parking spaces for government officials blocking a needed and proposed bike lane into the City’s signature park and reverse course before the paint gets too dry.

What’s Out There Today

The Southard and Fleming Streets bicycle lanes are well known, covering the 1100 blocks from White Street all the way down to the 400 blocks at Whitehead. And with the 300 and 400 blocks of Southard recently rebuilt and repaved, the new and improved bike lane in the 400 block of Southard Street looks great until it peters out just before you get to Whitehead. So, all of a sudden, if you are going to the Truman Waterfront Park, bikes suddenly have to take the lane and move into car traffic just where the street becomes two-way and gets even busier.

What the Bike Plan Says To Do

The City’s adopted Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan indicates on page 34 of its Vision Network to replace the current sharrows in the 300 block with a proper bike lane to complete the network all the way into Truman Waterfront Park. The perfect time to make that change is during a repaving. So, expectations were high when the street was recently rebuilt and repaved. But when construction was complete the street configuration was put back just the same as before, with private parking on-street for County officials and no bike lane. Why didn’t they follow the Bike Plan?

Why A Bike Lane Hasn’t Been Put In, Yet

When we asked why no bike lane was put in, per the Bike Plan, we learned that the City and County have a contract that was approved at a 2001 City Commission meeting to provide free on-street parking for County employees along this block during work hours. And so, we’ve been told the County must agree to let go of these spaces. The same agreement allows the County to use the 500 block of Thomas and the 400 block of Fleming for parking too. The County also owns a big parking lot behind the buildings on Thomas. If they have a crunch, perhaps they could add a deck to that parking lot. Or maybe they could provide incentives to get more of their employees to bike or take transit. Most employers downtown let their employees fend for themselves. We get that they want to do something for their most important employees, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of on-street City right-of-way that could be used for people on bikes and safer streets.

For a couple years now Mayor Teri Johnston has repeated the mantra to staff that she wants to see opportunities for bike and pedestrian improvements with every street rebuild or repaving and she’s been birddogging this particular issue. She asked the County Manager and Attorney to get this bike lane done and the City Attorney is talking to his counterparts at the County. That’s where we stand today. The ball is in the County’s court.

The Vision Network on page 34 of the Bike Plan calls for a bike lane (blue line) for the entire length of Southard Street and on into Truman Waterfront Park.

We Need a Network of Bike Facilities In Key West Not Disconnected Pieces

The fact that the Southard Street bike lane simply ends at the Green Parrot and dumps people on bikes into a jumble of traffic to fend for themselves, exemplifies the missing pieces of a larger safe bicycling network. Key West is full of cars AND bikes and that’s different than most places. According to the U.S. Census 15% of Key West residents commute to work by bicycle. That’s a lot more than some of the top “bike” cities in the country. Key West bike rental companies continue to do a record business. So, there’s a lot of bikes and now e-bikes and e-scooters mixing with golf carts, scooters, and cars. As so many of these people on the street are visitors from car-centric mainland places, they aren’t used to this jumble of vehicle types and that’s a dangerous mix. And it is why we need a seamless, connected, and safe network of bike facilities. Completing this bike lane all the way through to the park, as the Bike Plan instructs us to, helps achieve a safer network. And that’s better for everyone. People in cars and on bikes. Let’s hope Monroe County officials agree.

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Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

A native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led the nationally renown Commuter Services unit for Arlington County, VA’s DOT, Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

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